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Updated: 11th August 2020 22:29 World

REPORT FROM JAPAN: Worried foreigners head home

CBC's Amber Hildebrandt reports from Tokyo's Narita International Airport on the growing sense of anxiety among tourists and temporary residents in Japan.

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Under the famously calm Japanese veneer, there is no doubt a deep sense of "shimpai," or worry.

Even if they're not scared about the direct effects of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant leaks, which are limited to specific parts of the country, undoubtedly there is fear over the economic downturn likely to follow.

But the worry is worse among foreigners.

At Narita International Airport on Tuesday, foreign tourists and temporary residents crowded around the ticket counters to try to book last-minute flights home.

Some say they felt rising pressure from family back home. Others reached their disaster limit when one of Fukushima's nuclear power plants began leaking radiation on Tuesday.

Passengers wait in line at Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Amber Hildebrandt/CBC

"I think we should be really worried," said Hristina Gaydarska, 28. "It's Japanese culture … They accept that's their destiny. But I think we should leave."

Gaydarska, a university student from Europe, booked the first available flight home even though leaving Japan now might disqualify her from graduating.

A lack of information — largely due to language and cultural barriers — is also frustrating many foreigners.

"If I had no plane ticket scheduled for today, I would've left earlier," said Alexander Banko, 28, of Montreal, who was visiting his brother in Tokyo.

The entomologist has been closely reading and watching news about the disaster from media outlets around the world. In the end, he decided to leave because there wasn't enough known about the potential harm nuclear radiation may cause.

Though media outlets have focused their attention on the disaster in Japan, news reports don't always have the specifics needed on the ground.

The Japanese government is trying to get information to the some two million foreigners living here. One way is via Facebook, where anyone accessing the website in Japan receives a lengthy message at the top of their news stream. Depending on the language setting, it's available in Japanese, English or Korean.

The latest message on Tuesday evening urged Tokyo residents to stop hoarding because of the supply shortages in the stricken areas. "Please act calmly with patience," it reads.

But the system is imperfect. Though it tells foreigners some key information about limited train service and power outages, URLs linking to specifics are often in Japanese, defeating the purpose.

For Matthew Lam of Edmonton, a sudden trip home was welcome news. Amber Hildebrandt/CBC

Not everyone is in the state of panic, though, that appears so often in the news.

Many tourists and foreigners were also leaving simply because their tours were cancelled due to power outages and food shortages.

And a sudden trip home was even welcome news for some.

Edmontonian Matthew Lam, 21, arrived in Japan a month and a half ago to begin playing with Chiba prefecture's professional soccer team, Jef United. The team gave all players a week off because of the disaster.

"Normally I'd be gone for 11 months," said Lam. "It's a nice, unexpected break and a chance to see the family again."

Articled from the CBC RSS Syndication - RSS Feeds Copyright is that of their respective owners (CBC) Calgary News Releases

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